The NBA continued its ongoing relationship with China this week when it returned to the authoritarian regime’s state-run television after a nearly three-year hiatus.
“On the eve of the current NBA playoffs, the league’s games returned to state-run TV in China after a nearly three-year ban. It was a quiet return, with nary a word from New York or Beijing trumpeting the apparent end of a bitter conflict,” reported ESPN on Thursday.
Many of the NBA’s owners reportedly remained quiet as the league’s heads worked to repair relations with China that reportedly cost “cost hundreds of millions of dollars” in business since the ban was implemented in 2019 when Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted in favor of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.
Pro-Hong Kong demonstrators in front of L.A.’s Staples Center (Getty Images)
“The owners had reason to stay quiet: In addition to the money their teams derive from the NBA’s $5 billion business in China, many have significant personal stakes there through their other businesses,” the report added.
The 40 principal owners reportedly have invested a collective $10 billion in China, putting them in a profoundly vulnerable position if business relations went south.
Neither NBA commissioner Adam Silver nor deputy commissioner Mark Tatum commented on the lifted ban. NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said, “We continue to believe that exporting media rights of NBA games to fans in more than 200 countries and territories around the world, including China, is consistent with our mission to inspire and connect people everywhere through the power of basketball.”
Robert Kuhn, a longtime adviser to Chinese political leaders and multinational corporations operating in China, said the NBA would likely be at odds with its social justice messaging while appeasing China’s leaders for years to come.
“This is a significant issue and problem that American companies have,” said Kuhn. “It’s a tension between those two poles … to see companies promoting social justice in the U.S. but staying silent on what would be perceived to be far worse issues in China. This is going to be an issue for the rest of our working lives.”
Pro-Hong Kong demonstrations outside Staples Center (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Likewise, attorney Dan Harris, who represents companies doing business in China, said: “Nobody really wants their name associated with China, but what can they do? They’re sort of betwixt and between. If they say what Americans want them to say, it’s death in China. If they say what China wants, it’s death in America.”
The NBA infamously apologized to China after Daryl Morey’s famed tweet in 2019. Since then, the league has reportedly gone through great steps to censor players critical of the regime. During his time at the Boston Celtics, Enes Kanter Freedom alleged that NBA leaders “begged” him to remove his “Free Tibet” sneakers from the court.
“Before the game at Madison Square Garden, two gentlemen from the NBA begged me to take the shoes off,” Freedom told the New York Post last year.
Representatives from the NBA denied to the Post that Freedom was ever censored for his sneakers.
Freedom said he refused to take the shoes off and did not care if he got banned or fined. Once halftime approached, he learned that China had banned all Celtics games from streaming in the country.